Senate debates

Wednesday, 10 May 2023

Matters of Public Importance


4:34 pm

Photo of Matt O'SullivanMatt O'Sullivan (WA, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

A letter has been received from Senator McGrath:

Pursuant to standing order 75, I propose that the following matter of public importance be submitted to the Senate for discussion:

"Australia needed a Budget that reduces inflation and reins in spending to bring cost of living down for all Australians but instead, Labor delivered a high taxing, high spending budget that leaves an Australian family worse off by $25,000."

Is the proposal supported?

More than the number of senators required by the standing orders having risen in their places—

With the concurrence of the Senate, the clerks will set the clock in line with informal arrangements made by the whips.

4:35 pm

Photo of James McGrathJames McGrath (Queensland, Liberal National Party, Shadow Assistant Minister to the Leader of the Opposition) Share this | | Hansard source

I want to read out the words of this MPI again so those listening at home know how important this is:

Australia needed a Budget that reduces inflation and reins in spending to bring cost of living down for all Australians but instead, Labor delivered a high taxing, high spending budget that leaves an Australian family worse off by $25,000.

Last night was the great disappointment, wasn't it? It's a budget that is going to hurt Australians. Milton Freidman, quite a famous economist, wrote a few books. He said—

Photo of Paul ScarrPaul Scarr (Queensland, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

A Nobel Prize winner.

Photo of James McGrathJames McGrath (Queensland, Liberal National Party, Shadow Assistant Minister to the Leader of the Opposition) Share this | | Hansard source

Yes, thank you, Senator Scarr. Interestingly, he said that 'inflation is taxation without legislation'. What we saw with the budget last night is a big government budget that is not the solution to our cost-of-living crisis; it is the cause of our cost-of-living crisis. Last night, hundreds of thousands of Australians turned on their TV to watch the budget—there was probably nothing on Netflix—because they wanted to see Treasurer Jim Chalmers, that disciple of Paul Keating, deliver the cost-of-living relief that they desperately need. But, much to their disappointment, all Australia saw was a typical inflationary Labor budget, with more taxes, more reckless spending and more inflation to come. So it's not surprising that they flicked back to Netflix, Stan or Paramount+, because they know how the budget is going to end. Just like they know how the movie's going to end, they know how this budget's going to end. It's going to hurt their purses, wallets and bank accounts.

Compared to the coalition's last budget, this budget had $185 billion of extra spending. For those who are hard of hearing, that's billion—not million, not thousand and not hundred. That is $185 billion worth of extra spending. That is $7,400 per person, and that $7,400 has to come from somewhere. Guess where it's going to come from? It's going to come from taxes that are going to be put on you, your income and your business. Basically, if it moves, Labor are going to tax it. If it doesn't move they're going to tax it, and, quite frankly, if it's having a nap, they'll tax it. This is the problem with this Labor government. We know how this movie is going to end. It is going to hurt the Australian people. Their record on economic management is so dismal, so poor, that the Australian people are going to be hurt.

With all this extra spending, what has Labor done to support the backbone of our economy, the mining and agriculture sectors? They're particularly important to Senator Scarr and myself, in terms of our state of Queensland. What did Labor do? What did they say about the $185 billion? The Treasurer didn't even mention the word 'rail', the word 'dam', the word 'road', the word 'farmer' or the word 'agriculture'. He's not going to spend his $185 billion—it's not 'his' $185 billion; I'll correct myself and the Hansard. It is $185 billion of Australians' money; it's not the Labor Party's money. They're not going to spend the money on supporting rural, regional and remote Queensland, but, more importantly, this money actually isn't going to help Australian families. It's not going to support Australian families. Treasurer Chalmers, in his 30-minute eulogy last night for the Australian economy, was a constant disappointment.

What is interesting is that, for every dollar of revenue imposed in this budget, the government decided to spend $2. So in this budget it is spending twice as fast as it's raising revenue. Try to run your family home on that. Try to run a business like that. But, of course, Labor haven't run businesses and, quite frankly, they're not very good at looking after their own money because they're all a bunch of union hacks who depend on the income from compulsorily acquiring union fees off the workers of Australia.

So what we are going to see with this budget is Australian families getting smashed. They might think there's a little bit of a sugar hit, but what we know is that, if you have reckless economic management, which is what we saw last night, that is going to impact upon inflation. That means the cost of living is going to go up. This budget is going to be renowned as a budget that hurt Australia in the years and decades to come.

4:40 pm

Photo of Helen PolleyHelen Polley (Tasmania, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

What a lot of nonsense. It's the same speech that Senator McGrath comes in and gives every time we're in this chamber. His former government have no credibility at all. For over nine years not one surplus did they deliver—not one surplus at all. We've delivered that. What we've done is start to clean up the mess that they left behind, including the $1 trillion debt that the Liberal and Nationals left this country in. That's the reality. That's what the Australian people understand. That's what they made their decision on at the last election—who was going to be able to get us out of the mess that we were in. They very clearly said no to the 'noalition'.

Since re-emerging in opposition, they come in here and talk about the cost of living, which we are addressing. The Albanese government's budget eases the cost-of-living pressure on households. Our budget plan will directly reduce inflation in 2023-24. We know that Australians are struggling, something that those opposite failed to acknowledge in nine years when they continued to run down Australia's workers' wages. We saw the debt they kept piling on and piling on.

With this budget, instead of being a reasonable opposition that have accepted the election result and acknowledged that they failed on energy policy, what do we see from them? They are voting against things that are going to really ease the cost-of-living pressure on Australians. We hear the opposition come into this place talking about housing. We all know mortgage interest rates have gone up, which they were doing under their government. We have invested $14.6 billion in a cost-of-living package. These measures are expected to directly reduce inflation by three-quarters of a percentage point in 2023-24. We acknowledge Australians are under the pump, so we are carefully recalibrating and redesigning the budget to take the pressure off Australians. We are doing this in a responsible, adult way.

The budget priorities are responsible. They're targeted for cost-of-living relief while also investing in the future, securing services Australians rely on and strengthening the nation's finances. Our cost-of-living plan will directly lower price pressures and the CPI in 2023-24 and will not add to the broader inflationary pressure in the economy. We've delivered a responsible budget while still spending so that the government isn't adding to that inflation in our economy. This includes 87 per cent of revenue upgrades in October and May to the budget, compared to those, when they were in government, of an average of only 40 per cent. There's a big difference between 40 per cent and 87 per cent.

They've put their heads down. They don't want to hear these things. But Treasury's advice is that fiscal policy is working with monetary policy to tackle inflation in the near term. Australians are paying the price for the coalition's decade of failures. The coalition oversaw a decade of wasted opportunities. They had warped priorities and they left Australians with falling real wages. They had broken supply chains, which made inflation worse. They left $1 trillion—not $1 billion—of debt without an economic dividend to show for it—not one. And they espouse themselves to be the great economic managers between the two major parties! You have been seen for your failings. You have failed. You had 22 energy policies and couldn't land on one policy that was going to address the energy needs of this country. So, now when you're in opposition, you want to oppose everything. You won't support anything that we are doing in trying to restructure the National Reconstruction Fund, the Housing Australia Future Fund, or cleaner and cheaper energy. The coalition are just voting to increase inflation. That's what you're doing. We want inflation to be lower. You want it to be higher, or you would get on board and support the very good policies that are going to assist the housing crisis in this country. We are going to do something about energy. We're delivering real benefits to Australians. My home state of Tasmania will get a— (Time expired)

4:45 pm

Photo of Peter Whish-WilsonPeter Whish-Wilson (Tasmania, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

Millions of Australians who voted for change at the last federal election will be disappointed to learn that one of the biggest losers from this federal budget was the environment and our oceans. We know we're in an extinction crisis and this government, with great fanfare, has signed up for big global pushes, like this Aichi zero extinction target. They've signed up to the UN's pledge to protect 30 per cent of our land and sea by 2030, but where's the funding for our threatened species framework in this budget? We know that to properly protect our environment, to stop the loss of threatened species and to restore our environment, we need at least $2 billion a year in funding, based on the US model. What do we get in this budget? Depending on how you dice it, maybe $50 million a year—a few per cent of what is required.

I'd like to read the words of Professor Euan Ritchie, one of the many scientists who have been ringing the bell on the need for real government funding to protect our environment. He was surprised when he said that words that can't be found in the Treasurer's 2023 budget speech include 'climate change', 'wildlife', 'threatened species', 'ecosystems', 'extinction', 'biodiversity' and 'nature'. The only mention of 'environment' was actually in relation to the environment of inflation. So much for actions to back up the words from this government in a time of real crisis! Budgets are the most important time for governments, especially new governments, to show the nation what their priorities are, and it's clear as daylight that the environment is not a priority for this government. But it is a priority for the Australian Greens, and we will continue to fight for our environment. We know the government is going to be bringing forward legislation in the next six to nine months, and this is an issue we will continually raise so that in the next budget, in May 2024, we see the environment properly funded.

4:49 pm

Photo of Andrew BraggAndrew Bragg (NSW, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

It's a pleasure to speak about this matter of public importance. I made a statement in an earlier debate that, unfortunately, the government, whilst deciding to run an inflationary fiscal position, has not been prepared to be honest about that for reasons known only to the government. Perhaps there are internal reasons or perhaps they are trying to manage some noisy stakeholders, but the test that they have set for themselves is a test that we will remind them of on a regular basis, and that is not to be overly partisan but just to be honest. If you're saying that inflation is going to halve over the next 12 months, and you've written it into the budget papers, then we hope that you're right. But I'd say it's going to be a challenge to halve inflation when you are running a massively expansionary fiscal policy.

That I think is the government's own issue to resolve. Certainly we will be watching very closely what the Reserve Bank does and what the minutes say when they meet every month. The reality is that fiscal and monetary policy should be working in unison. The fact that there was a surprise interest rate rise only 10 days ago or so is a real warning that the Reserve Bank has been prepared to do what is necessary to try to rein in inflation.

The Reserve Bank governor has been unfairly pursued by the Labor Party's backbenchers just for doing his job, and his job has been made much harder. Philip Lowe's job has been made so much harder by the Labor Party over these past 10 months. And the job of Philip Lowe, as the Reserve Bank governor, was made so much harder on Tuesday night with the announcement of more spending. And sure, not all the revenue upgrades were spent, but a large proportion was spent. And it is true that in the past too much of the revenue upgrades have been spent. So the key test for a government is: can it bank all of it? I would argue that that was the most appropriate policy position to take in this inflationary environment. That is the bottom line on inflation. We will watch closely as to whether the government is able to achieve its goal which it has written into the budget.

The more immediate point, though, is that more taxation has been proposed in this budget and in the lead-up to the budget—a couple of billion dollars on super funds and the end, in some way, of dividend imputation, as well as a range of other things. Eventually some of these taxes are going to cause major problems and distortions, particularly this tax change on imputation. The reason for that is that the government is proposing a new test in the law which says you can pay a frank dividend only if you have a period where you haven't been raising capital. Now, most normal companies have to—guess what?—raise capital. It's called equity, and you need money to run a business. I would have thought that if the law says that if you raise capital you can't pay a frank dividend then people will be either less likely to raise the capital or less likely to pay tax in Australia.

I think it is going to be a major change to our capital markets if that particular proposal is adopted The reason this proposal is on the table is that the government is needing to raise taxes, which of course is a breach of a commitment the government gave before the last election, which was not to raise any new taxes. We've seen a few new taxes in the last budget, in October. We've seen a few more taxes in the lead-up to this budget, which were leaked out and put into Budget Paper 2 last night. I would guess that there will be more taxes over the next year and a half or two years of this term.

In summary, the position we have is that the government have said that they are wanting to fight inflation, but they're not quite telling the truth about that, because they're running an expansionary budget. They've said they will get inflation down to a bit above three per cent. That is a test we will hold them very closely to, and we will look at any other taxes they propose to try to fill their holes.

4:54 pm

Photo of Louise PrattLouise Pratt (WA, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

The MPI before us today is a very flimsy fig leaf for the opposition in terms of their own record in government. It's all very well for those opposite to start talking about cost of living and inflationary pressures that all started under their government and to seek to pin that all home to the Labor Party. The simple fact is that you missed the opportunity to ease cost-of-living pressures for Australians. You had a direct impact on inflationary pressures inside the Australian economy.

Let's not forget the so-called fiscal restraint that you claimed to have in trying to demonstrate that you weren't having inflationary pressure on the economy and that you weren't spending as much as you were. For example, let's not forget the so-called 'zombie measures', which Senator Gallagher has so eloquently outlined so often in this chamber, as unfunded measures in our federal budget. When we talk about these issues in this place, those opposite look at us incredulously, as if to say: 'Well, of course we weren't going to de-fund that. Of course we weren't.' The simple fact is either you were or you weren't. The budget papers say you were because the measures weren't there in your bottom line. If you were intending to keep such measures funded, then you can't take credit for the downward pressure on inflation for not funding them. Those opposite can't have their cake and eat it too.

Here we have had an excellent finance minister and an excellent Treasurer go through the very hard slog of assessing measures in the budget, leaving no stone unturned in ensuring that we can maximise relief for families while putting downward pressure on inflation. The cost of living in Australia is, as we know, hitting many Australians extremely hard. Inflation, of course, remains our defining economic challenge this year, as it was last year. We know we are riding the waves of not only the global consequences around the war in Ukraine but also the decade of wasted opportunities from the previous government that have put enormous pressure on supply chains here in Australia and in terms of our global networks.

Happily, Australians understand that our government has inherited these challenges, not created them. Australians look to the Labor government with purpose, to address these difficult challenges and to take responsibility for them—unlike those opposite. I have to say that it is indeed a struggle for Australians facing rising interest rates and rising costs of living, but the only way to bring this under control is through deliberate budget measures. The RBA has one set of levers, and our government has another. We have the opportunity to relieve cost-of-living pressures through the measures in this budget, and we are glad to do so. This means it's important to prioritise relief where Australians need it most. It means we need to prioritise services and utilities et cetera that Australians really rely on and need: bulk-billing, energy price relief, rent assistance and the expansion of the eligibility for single parents and carers for parenting payments— (Time expired)

4:59 pm

Photo of Ralph BabetRalph Babet (Victoria, United Australia Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Everyone's a winner in Treasurer Chalmers's budget unless you understand that inflation is a tax that doesn't require legislation. It's a tax that hurts our most vulnerable. We've got a surplus, for now. There are no tough decisions in this budget. Courage is not the Treasurer's strong point. The unions are happy. The globalists are happy. The big corporates are elated. Productivity-boosting measures are non-existent in this budget. It's all about big government and short-term fixes to large problems, often created by the very government that chooses to ignore them.

If we want our country to head in a better direction, increase our standard of living and help the disadvantaged, the solution is not more spending or big government. The solution is cutting red tape and green tape, removing barriers for business and promoting entrepreneurial attitudes. The solution is growing the pie so that everyone can eat.

5:00 pm

Photo of Malcolm RobertsMalcolm Roberts (Queensland, Pauline Hanson's One Nation Party) Share this | | Hansard source

What are the two words too scary for the Treasurer to mention even once in this budget? They are mining and agriculture. Ladies and gentlemen of Australia, booming mining and agriculture have yet again saved Australia's economy. The budget surplus is due to mining and agricultural exports, not to the Treasurer. Is he keeping it secret because Labor wants to continue to destroy these vital industries? We should be opening more coal mines, not blocking them. We should be building more coal-fired power stations, not blowing them up. And we should be setting our farmers free to feed and clothe the world.

Labor's energy relief plan is an admission that net-zero policies cannot lower power prices. Today we have the highest ever amount of wind and solar, yet the Treasurer needs to step in and use taxpayer money to cover up how high they are driving power bills.

On inflation, how inflationary will 400,000 new migrants be? Every single one of the 400,000 people arriving this year will need a roof over their head, a home. That's inflation.

5:01 pm

Photo of Matt O'SullivanMatt O'Sullivan (WA, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

AN (—) (): I rise to support this matter of public importance brought forward by your good self, Acting Deputy President McGrath. This is a very important motion. It addresses an issue that Australians are facing right now. They're feeling the pain of the rising cost of living across this country right now. It doesn't matter where you are in this country, or what section of the Australian economy you are in. Businesses, individuals and families are feeling the rise of the cost of living.

What we saw last night from the Treasurer—who was in fine form, glowing from the self-congratulation from his own side, channelling high-taxing Labor treasurers of years gone by—was a budget that doesn't address cost-of-living issues. Labor's true colours came through indeed. This budget did nothing to address cost-of-living pressures for Australian families. It did nothing to address the cost-of-living burdens being carried by Australians on a daily basis. It's a cost-of-living con job, frankly. That's what we saw.

The only person with less sleep this week than the Treasurer was the governor of the Reserve Bank. That's because he knows that if the government continues to overspend, as it has done in its second year, the only way that inflation will be brought under control is by using the levers of the Reserve Bank governor—that is, by raising interest rates. There is enormous pressure on the Reserve Bank now because they're the ones left to carry the can. But guess what? It's the Australians struggling to pay their mortgages that will be left to do the heavy lifting.

There was nothing in the budget last night that actually addresses the structural difficulties and challenges, to drive down the cost of living and decrease inflation. There's nothing in that budget. We saw some temporary measures that might help people. There's some energy relief, but that's for this year alone. Prices will still go up by $500. What is the government doing to put downward pressure on the cost of living? Sadly, nothing. We know that this government does not actually have a plan. If they did, we would have seen it last night. We've been saying this for a long time, hoping that when the budget was delivered on the first Tuesday of May there'd be a plan to address this significant issue that Australians are facing. Sadly, we were all left wanting.

We're seeing increased spending. Two dollars is going out in expenditure to each dollar coming in in revenue, and what we're seeing is that the Reserve Bank are the ones that are going to have to deal with this and that the Labor Party have no plan to deal with inflation. Labor cannot spend its way out of this cost-of-living crisis. It was the great British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher who said that the problem with socialism is that you eventually 'run out of other people's money'. That's what this government is doing.

Australian taxpayers, they're spending your money, and they cannot spend their way out of this situation. The budget makes life harder for Australians. The budget confirms that your cost of living goes up. The budget confirms that the gas and electricity prices continue to skyrocket, that real wages have not grown, that inflation remains stubbornly high, that unemployment will rise and that Australians can expect to pay higher taxes. A typical Australian family is expected to be $25,000 a year worse off under this Albanese Labor government. Under Anthony Albanese, the Prime Minister, every dollar is worth less. That dollar that you've got in your bank account or in your pocket is worth less today because of this government than it was a year ago. The Treasurer is running around, pointing to his wafer-thin budget surplus. But let's face the reality that it is the resources sector—particularly, in my home state of Western Australia, the iron ore sector, which is obviously continuing to get record prices—that is delivering the surplus, and the Treasurer can't take credit for that. (Time expired)

Photo of James McGrathJames McGrath (Queensland, Liberal National Party, Shadow Assistant Minister to the Leader of the Opposition) Share this | | Hansard source

Order! The time for the discussion expired.